Life Together: Love - 1st Corinthians 13

Jim asked his friend Tony whether he had bought his wife anything for Valentine’s Day.
“Yes,” came the answer from Tony, who was always a bit of a chauvinist.” “I’ve bought her a belt and a bag.”
“That was very kind of you,” Jim noted.  “I hope she appreciates the thought.”
“So do I,” Tony replied.  “And hopefully the vacuum cleaner will work better now.”

After she woke up, a woman told her husband, “I just dreamed that you gave me a pearl necklace for my birthday.  What do you think it means?”
“You’ll know tonight,” he said.
That evening, the man came home with a small package and gave it to his wife, “Happy Birthday,” he said.
Excited, she quickly tore through the paper to find a book entitled, “The Meaning of Dreams.”

Men, I hope when we give gifts to our wives, we do better than these two guys.  Gifts and cards are supposed to be acts of love…however, after hearing about these gifts from Tony and the thoughtful book-giving husband, we can understand why Tina Turner’s 1984 hit went all the way to number one as she asked, “What’s Love Got To Do With It?”
My brothers and sisters, we have come to the next stop along our journey of rediscovering the gift we have been given by the greatest gift-giver…we are seeking to recapturing what it means to live “Life Together.”
We began this journey after hearing the words of Dietrich Bonheoffer telling us that it is only by God’s grace, a gift from God, that we are still allowed to be gathered together as a Christian community.  Since we have this gift, we must learn how to use it, how to reclaim it from years of abuse, misuse, and neglect.
We discussed the importance of humility in “Life Together.”  Humility reminding us that we are to put others before ourselves, that we are not better than anyone else in the community, and that we are to live our lives in service to our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Two weeks ago, we considered forgiveness and the role it plays in our “Life Together.”  Forgiveness is essential to life together because to not forgive not only causes problems between us as brothers and sisters in Christ, but it also disturbs our relationship with God. We remembered the words of Christ as he was teaching the disciples how to pray, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, then the Father will also forgive you; but if you don’t forgive others their trespasses, neither will the Father forgive your trespasses.”
Today, we come to “Love.”  Why put something as important as “Love” in the middle of the series?  It is because “Love” is central to our “Life Together.”  “Love” is what truly enables us to live a “Life Together.”  We talked in both the areas of humility and forgiveness how difficult those aspects of our “Life Together,” are.  We will find, in the coming weeks, that it is through the scope of love, that we must focus all acts of our “Life Together.”
How important is “Love”?  All we have to do is look at Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.  Paul was writing this letter to a newly formed community of faith.  This community was just learning how to live, “Life Together,” as the Body of Christ.  They were experiencing one conflict right after another…conflicts that involved boasting and looking down on others…conflicts over using God-given gifts…conflicts over understandings of the resurrection…what was okay to eat…how to handle sin…you get the idea…Corinth was a church in conflict…and in the midst of his letter, Paul stresses the importance of “Love.”  You will hear me say this repeatedly over the years, but let’s start with today.  Paul did not write 1st Corinthians 13 for weddings…he wrote it to help a church in conflict find its way.
“If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give away all my possessions, and if I had over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”  Paul goes on to describe what this love looks like, and then concludes, “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”  According to Paul, “Love” is so important that without it anything we do is worthless and a bunch of noise… “Love” is the greatest aspect of our faith that we are called to exercise…the key to our “Life Together.”
How important is love?  Well, the word “love” occurs over 280 times in the New Revised Version of the New Testament…
Jesus said, “But I say to you, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…”
“The greatest commandment is this, ‘you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’  The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
How about, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever should believe in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”
Jesus told his followers, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
And moving from the Gospel of John to John’s first letter, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love, does not know God, for God is love...Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God: if we love one another, God lives in us, and His love is perfected in us…Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.  The commandment we have from Him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”
God’s Holy Word leaves us no doubt as to how important love is and how central it is to our “Life Together.”  Without “Love” when we gather together, we are just making a bunch of racket, not a sound pleasing to the ears of God.  If we do not love our brother and sister in Christ, then we cannot even claim to love God.
So if love is so important, what does this love look like?  That’s where the limits to the English language are made evident.
A pastor once pointed out that depth of our English word “Love” is limited because we use it in so many ways it makes it difficult to understand what God’s word is getting at.  Think about it, we use the same word, “love,” for loving our car, loving fried shrimp, loving trips to the Cape,  loving the idea of warmer weather, loving a kitten, loving our spouse, and loving God.”  While we use the same word, we know that our feelings are different for each one.
So how do we know what the love that we are supposed to have in our “Life Together” is supposed to look like?
It should reflect God’s love for us and Paul gives us a description of that love in our reading this morning.  Paul describes to us “agape” Love…God’s free giving, selfless love:
“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.  It bears all things, believes all thins, hopes all things, and endures all things.  Love never ends…”
This is the kind of love that we are to have with one another in our Life Together.  This is the kind of love that enables humility and forgiveness.  We are called to be patient with one another, kind to one another.  We are not to be envious of one another.  We are not to be boastful or arrogant or rude.  We are not to insist on our own way.  We are not to be irritable or resentful.  We are not to rejoice in wrongdoing.  We are supposed to rejoice in truth.  We are to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things.  Just as God’s love for us does not end, in this community of faith, this community of love, our love for one another is to never end.
To answer Tina Turner’s 34-year-old question, “What has love got to do with it?”  In our “Life Together,” Love has everything to do with it.  And unlike Tony and the other husband, God’s gift of Love in Christ is the most amazing gift of love anyone could imagine…and it is that same self-giving, sacrificial love, that God calls us to have for one another in our “Life Together.”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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